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To Whom Was God Talking in Genesis 1:26?
Gang nach Emmaus (On the Road to Emmaus)
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Genesis 1:26, KJV)
The other night, I watched a video in which Rabbi Singer interprets Genesis 1:26 in response to Christians who hold that God is talking to Jesus in Genesis 1:26 (you can watch the video at the end of this article).
Rabbi Singer pointed out that Christians make this statement because they are interpreting Genesis 1:26 through the lens of the Gospel of John.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3, KJV)
Indeed, it takes a Christian theological perspective to conclude that us in Genesis 1:26 refers to the Father and Jesus. Humanity knew nothing about Jesus of Nazareth when Genesis was written, so Genesis 1:26 does not explicitly teach about Jesus.
This does not mean, however, that Rabbi Singer's interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is right. As we shall see, Rabbi Singer is doing the same thing Christians are doing: imposing his perspective on the text. On the other hand, the text itself establishes a precedent for the Christian belief system.
Why Rabbi Singer's Interpretation is Wrong
According to Rabbi Tovia Singer, when God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," God was talking to angels and animals, who were already present when God created Adam and Eve.
Rabbi Singer proceeds to explain how human beings are like angels and like animals: God made human beings from the same essence that He made angels, His own essence, and God made human beings with physical bodies, like animals.
There are some very significant problems with Rabbi Singer's interpretation of Genesis 1:26. First, the Bible never describes human beings as being created in the image of angels and the animals. Sure, human beings are like angels in some ways and like animals in other ways, but the Bible only teaches that God created human beings in the image of God.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27, KJV).
"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (Genesis 9:6, KJV).
Just like Christians who interpret Genesis 1:26 through the lens of John 1:1, Rabbi Singer is interpreting Genesis 1:26 through rabbinic philosophy while disregarding the clear context of Genesis 1:26.
The other problem with Rabbi Singer's interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is that it fails to consider the sentence structure of Genesis 1:26. Clearly, when God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," God is talking to someone else; but what is He saying to that someone else? God is inviting that someone else to create together with Him. "Let us make man" is clearly an invitation to create.
Was God inviting the angels and the animals to create together with Him? Were the first two human beings the result of the collective effort of God, angels, and animals? Of course not! But if we were to interpret Genesis 1:26 through the lens of Rabbi Tovia Singer's interpretation, that is what we would have to conclude.
Nevertheless, Genesis 1:27 clearly teaches that the Creator of the human being is God.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27, KJV)
To whom Is God Really Talking In Genesis 1:26?
If then God is not talking the angels or to the animals in Genesis 1:26, to whom is He talking? To find the answer, we need to go back to the beginning of the text, back to verses 1 and 2.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2, KJV).
Two characters are introduced in these verses (the first two verses of the Bible!). The first character is God, of whom it is said that He created the heavens and the Earth; and the second character is the Spirit, of whom it is said that He moved over the surface of the waters.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between God and the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit of God because He is related to God, He proceeds from God; but if He proceeds from God, then He is not the same as God, but a part of God.
Moreover, the Spirit moves. Being apart from God, the Spirit moves on His own. The Hebrew word that is translated moved is the word rachaph, which means to hover. The Lexham English Bible translates this word as was hovering.
"And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters" (Genesis 1:2, Lexham English Bible).
What was the Spirit of God doing hovering over the surface of the waters? Genesis does not give us an explicit answer. In fact, we do not hear about the Spirit of God again until Genesis 6:3. Nevertheless, we can infer that the Spirit of God is involved in the creation.
On verse 3 we read, “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3, KJV). God said, “Let there be light,” but what brought light into existence? It appears that the Spirit of God brought light into existence. This is the only clue Genesis gives us for the Spirit’s presence. The Spirit must be carrying out God’s directions.
Thus, we conclude that the Spirit of God is a part of God that is distinguished from God, that moves of its own, that fulfills God’s word, and to whom God speaks. The Spirit of God is a person to whom God relates, even though He is a part of God.
Now Genesis 1:26 makes sense. God was talking to the Spirit. He was inviting the Spirit, who is both a person and a part of God, to create together with Him the first human beings in the image of both God and the Spirit.
There are numerous Scriptures in the Torah (the Pentateuch) and the rest of the Tanach (the Old Testament) that Hashem (God) is a complex being. The God of the Bible is not a singular self, but a single being within whom exist more than one selves. Christianity has traditionally attempted to explain this complexity with the doctrine of the Trinity.
In Genesis 1, particularly in verses 1, 2, and 26, we find the first biblical allusions to the complexity of which I speak. We do not see the entire Trinity; Jesus is not mentioned in Genesis 1. Nevertheless, the foundation laid for us to realize that although God is only one, He is irreducibly complex.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 28:19, KJV)
Rabbi Tovia Singer on Genesis 1:26
© 2018 Marcelo Carcach